In the 1980’s there was a trifecta of different styles all blending together in a perfect storm of outrageous thematic elements that would soon dominate the entire fringe culture, and even cross into mainstream. Going a decade back the roots of this movement were beginning with the rise of the Dungeons and Dragons tabletop RPG game. The theme was medieval fantasy. It had firmly taken hold of video game culture by the middle of the decade with games such as Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Ghosts N Goblins, Gauntlet, and even Castlevania taking the horror/fantasy genre to mainstream status. On the music side bands like Alice Cooper, Dio, KISS, and many others, were using D&D, horror, fantasy, and medieval art mixed with Gothic imagery. While Hollywood itself was slow to jump on the bandwagon, indie filmmakers like George Lucas, Stephan Spielberg, Jim Henson, and John Carpenter were all making variations of this theme. And best of all they blended together perfectly. Horror movies would reference D&D usually with a gamer depicted or borrow heavily from medieval mythologies, while having a strong heavy-metal soundtrack, which in turn contained lyrics that referenced D&D either directly or indirectly often as the horror movies would. So if you were a fan of medieval fantasy, Gothic imagery and music that told stories set in these thematic worlds, then the mid-to-late 80’s was your decade.
During this time nothing blended these three elements together better than Wes Craven’s Gothic horror masterpiece “A Nightmare o Elm Street.” While the first film itself doesn’t really contain too much in the way of medieval fantasy, it does have a very strong fantasy component, the music is very fitting for the mood, plus it also contains some of that D&D-esque metal rock sprinkled in to ensure it hit all of the notes. In some ways the movie is a murder mystery, you know almost detective noir-style with Nancy trying to solve the mystery of the masked villain killing her friends one-by-one. It also has a little bit of Gothic horror with Freddy acting as a zombie, a vampire, and a serial killer all while tormenting his victims not with his own dastardly schemes, but using their own fears against them. In some ways it is also a psychological thriller.
The film opens with an abstract scene in the basement of some factory or plant with an unseen man crafting a glove containing sharp razors as extensions of the fingers. Immediately the tone of the film is set, the killer is unseen, hiding in the shadows, nobody knows who, or what, he is or why he is killing these seemingly random teenagers. During the course of the film there are references to Shakespeare, including a quote from Julius Cesar about nightmares, fitting as in the play he dreamed of his demise before it happened, much like the victims in the film.
I won’t spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it. I am not under the impression that just because it is old everyone knows what takes place, I will say anyone that has any interest in mythology, fantasy, horror, vampires, zombies, the undead, D&D, or heavy metal music should check out the entire franchise. Each film has it’s own strengths and weaknesses.
The sequel, often criticized but still worth watching, goes in a different direction. Instead of a murder mystery where the kids are trying to survive by figuring out who the killer is and how to defeat him, part two, subtitled as “Freddy’s Revenge,” takes on a more haunted house, possession story line. Again it has some moments fans cringe at but it also has a few of the iconic moments that the franchise is well known for. There is even scene that takes place inside of a Gothic night club, further tying the franchise into this whole theme.
Of course if you really want proof the Nightmare films are really D&D-inspired look no further than the third entry. Regarded by many, myself included, as the best in the franchise second only to the original to some, it’s a masterpiece in many ways and proof that a sequel can outdo the original. But there are so many more D&D elements and fantasy themes in this movie. For starters the subtitle is now “The Dream Warriors.” It centers on the survivors of the previous two films, the “Last of the Elm Street teenagers.” something you just have to watch the movies to understand. It also features a kid who prominently plays D&D in the movie, even going so far as having an actual scene depicting, fairly accurately unlike most movies, a portion of game play. In the dream world however things get weirder, this character becomes a wizard with super powers and another character takes on a Gothic/Punk look even meeting Freddy face to face in an alley. There is an Alice in Wonderland feel to the third installment, a D&D type maze/dungeon at the end where they come together as a team, a cleric type, a sage type, a fighter type, and even the silent stealthy bard/thief type, who all have to face the final boss, Freddy, at the end to win the treasure, their right to live, and go back to living normal lives at the end of their mythic quest. It truly is the one film in the series the most similar to an actual game of Dungeons and Dragons, from the very opening scene to the very end credits. It even brings in a fleshed out back story and mythology to the character and his origins are explored in a very medieval Catholic mythology sort of way.
Part four sort of keeps the notion of dream powers, introduces new concepts like the Dream Master, the films subtitle, and ends in a final battle with a new powered up girl in a church where at the end she ends up well I won’t spoil it but it’s very much in line with the theme I been repeating.
Part 5 and 6 are where the franchise takes a turn for the worse. Number 5, the Dream Child, is more of a comic book movie, Freddy is even depicted as a comic book villain and his nemesis is his own mother, resurrected to take him back to hell or something I guess. The movie has a more action movie, comic book vibe and style to it. In some ways that is refreshing, in other ways it can be off putting. Part six is, to put it bluntly, a parody of the franchise. It’s basically a Warner Bros. cartoon making fun of the whole concept, and yes it even features Bugs Bunny and Wizard of Oz references and heavily relies on the 3-D gimmick. It does flesh out the mythology quite well, and features a really great cameo by the dark master himself, Alice Cooper, again really mixing the themes in a way that ensures fans will find something to enjoy. It’s the worst of the films by most accounts but still worth watching for a few things, those cameos and back story plus a surprise I won’t spoil.
Part 7, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, gets back to the Gothic horror theme by basically putting Freddy into the Hansel and Gretel story. There isn’t much else to say it’s almost a remake/reboot of the original film with a twist but it’s one of the scarier films in the series, still worth checking out. I won’t go into either Freddy Vs. Jason or the 2010 Remake as they both stray so far from the original their best left in their own world. I enjoyed them each, in their own way, but neither of them live up to the source material. Freddy vs. Jason is made for the Playstation crowd and the remake was too dark and had no ties to the fantasy mythology that the original had. Worse of all, it wasn’t even about a child murderer freed on a technicality, it was a sick perverted child molester that had no motive for murdering his victims in their dream world, which also had no fantasy elements at all, instead it was trying too hard to be dark an edgy where it really just ended up being creepy and uncomfortable.
What can I say, I enjoy Gothic music and themes, I play Dungeons and Dragons extensively and I thoroughly enjoy the fantasy-themed horror series of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Netflix recently added the original film to its streaming service, Part 2 and New Nightmare had been there before but they are not the actual best movies, the first and 3rd films are really the two to watch. Part 4 is pretty good, 5 and 6 are laughable but somewhat entertaining and the rest are different degrees of bad or too dark for my taste.
I also really enjoyed the documentary on Netflix “Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy” that really delved deep into the behind the scenes of the movies.
My personal ranking, with scores, best to worst:
- A Nightmare On Elm Street 5/5
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors 5/5
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master 4.5/5
- Freddy vs. Jason 4/5
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child 3.5/5
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge 3.5/5
- A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead, The Final Nightmare 3.5/5
- A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) remake 3.5/5
- Wes Craven’s New Nightmare 3/5
Since I consider both New Nightmare and 2010 to be remakes, I prefer the full on reboot over the half-baked soft reboot. I know others will disagree but I just never cared for the breaking the fourth wall and taking Freddy into the “real” world making everything that came before just a movie, inside of a movie, too meta for my tastes.
There you have it, my general thoughts on the Freddy Krueger character and the films he appears in.